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Filmmaker documents return of hope

Dozens of Afghan women wait to receive their police uniforms (above). White Rock documentarian Alison MacLean (below) is gathering items to take to Afghanistan in September. - Contributed photos
Dozens of Afghan women wait to receive their police uniforms (above). White Rock documentarian Alison MacLean (below) is gathering items to take to Afghanistan in September.
— image credit: Contributed photos

A White Rock documentarian is preparing to return to Afghanistan with her camera and a humanitarian-aid shipment.

Alison MacLean will travel to Mazar-i-Sharif next month to film the ending to her documentary, Burkas 2 Bullets, and to deliver an aid shipment from the Denton Program – which allows private citizens and organizations to use space available on U.S. military cargo planes to transport humanitarian goods to countries in need – as well as donations gathered locally.

The decision to travel to the tumultuous Middle Eastern country came as a surprise to all who knew MacLean – even herself.

“I was not planning to go back. I had an interview in March and was asked and I said, ‘No, I’m definitely not going back,’” she laughed. “But the aid drop won’t occur unless I am managing it through the checkpoint.

“If that entire community can benefit from it, I have to do it.”

Mazar-i-Sharif is Afghanistan’s fourth largest city and is home to a women’s police force, which MacLean helped outfit with uniforms last year.

With help from friends and contacts at home and in Afghanistan, MacLean was able to securely send over funds that were used to purchase custom black hijabs, long tunics, pants, boots and gloves for 80 women on the force.

“We’re trying so hard to bring change, but the Taliban are true to form and they are working to quash our efforts,” she said, noting the terrorist group had issued a fatwa – a legal decree handed down by an Islamic religious leader – against the women. “They said they would execute one policewoman a month. But guess what, what’s amazing is that more and more women are signing up for security forces. Instead of being scared away, (the Taliban) is causing women to become more firm in their resolve.

“These women know the need to make their own way. Change is happening.”

While much of MacLean’s documentary focus has been the plight of Afghan women working to achieve more control in their lives and community, she explained her latest trip will focus on all who live in Mazar-i-Sharif.

“This shipment will set up the community for almost a year,” she said, noting that she will also be sending over 25 bags of clothing donated by Delta police.

In order to supplement the shipment, MacLean requires further donations, including basic necessities such as children’s vitamins, Polysporin, Band-Aids, educational supplies, Aspirin – “all the basic things that can set up a little medical dispensary.”

“They have nothing there,” she said.

MacLean added that so far, the response from local communities – including White Rock Rotary – has been overwhelming.

She noted the Rotarians have provided financial support, on top of helping her spread awareness.

“The White Rock Rotary has been so generous. I would not be able to do any of this without the local community support from White Rock, South Surrey and Delta,” she said, adding that local businesses have helped, too, including providing storage for the supplies she will be taking over, among other things.

The community support has bolstered MacLean’s resolve, despite the very real danger she will be facing when she is in Afghanistan.

Because of the attention surrounding the policewomen, her work has become known to “the wrong people,” including insurgents who monitor the Internet. MacLean will be going back to the community with NATO support, but notes that any westerner going into a country like Afghanistan could be considered a bargaining chip.

Adding to concern was the brutal execution of Lt. Islam Bibi, the most senior policewoman in the volatile Helmond Province, and one of the women featured in MacLean’s documentary.

“I was so frustrated. She was a bright light. She knew what she was doing, but she wanted to be a part of protecting her family and her culture,” MacLean said. “Her death is a tragedy, but what hopefully will be brought forward through her story is that these people have a great ambition for their country.

“People are surviving war and they’re leading the best lives they can.”

With her return to Mazar-i-Sharif, MacLean said she will be able to create a new ending for Burkas 2 Bullets that will include the aid shipment and a first-hand look at the evolving community.

“The biggest change I’ve noticed is that they have hope for the very first time. There is more confidence,” she said. “It’s exciting to see people toughening their resolve and creating hope for the children.”

For more information, or to donate to the shipment, contact MacLean at tomboy_productions@yahoo.ca or call 778-896-0294.

 

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